So recently a friend of mine asked me about the use of interfacings and stabilizers and what was the difference. I consider interfacings and stabilizers both indispensable in fabric art creating of various types. They make the difference between a successful project and a lackluster or even failed piece. Understanding them is one of the basic skills for everything from fashion sewing to quilted art. I can fully understand her need to know more about them.
The Byzantine world of stabilizers and interfacings can be very confusing, because there are so many of them and they all have different uses. Adding to the confusion is all the different brands that are out there and may call them something different and what do they mean by “lightweight” anyway?
First of all, let’s discuss her question of what is the difference between interfacing and stabilizer.
- Well, for one thing, stabilizers do not always stay in the project, but sometimes they can. They are largely designed to assist in making machine embroidery work both in the hoop and free motion thread painting. They are also useful for decorative machine stitching.
- What makes this confusing is that interfacings can also serve as stabilizers but they are designed to remain in the project and interfacings often look like stabilizers.
- You may need both or even two or more for specific projects.
- You can even use spray starch or other spray products to work as stabilizers.
- And then there are those clear plastic looking stabilizers of varying weights made with corn starch or similar ingredient that washes away. They have a variety of interesting and helpful uses in the fabric artist’s studio.
- Interfacings provide stability for fabrics that have a tendency to disintigrate, spread the stitching, or simply need a heavier hand for the project you are making. They help to properly shape clothing, and are particularly required for any high-end sewing like fine couture sewing, tailored garments, wedding dresses, simple dressmaker jackets or vests, and shirts with buttons and collars. I use interfacings extensively in both my clothes making and art quilting to make my wide selection of fabrics work together.
Sew I am focusing this discussion by using popular brand names just because it is easy to identify and I know from using them they are a good product, but there are other brands that are also fine and some that are just terrible (shrinking, bubbling, wadding up with use). Buy a good grade of these products so your project will be successful.
I have a handful of stabilizers that I keep stocked in the studio so I have them when the need to sew or quilt hits me in the middle of the night and it also helps to save lots of time. Also by stocking, I can save a lot of money by buying them when a good sale goes by. There are a large number of Pellon interfacings, but I try to keep at least three yards available of these four weights of interfacings. I buy the first two of these by the bolt when they are on sale because I use a lot of them. They are usually much cheaper–three or four times cheaper–by the bolt, and even more if you hit a good sale.
- For stabilizing (there’s that word that helps make this all so confusing when talking about interfacings) such fabrics as silks, very light weight cottons, dupioni and satin polyesters, specialty fabrics, and to use for some wool or wool like tailoring fabrics, I stock a woven fusible lightweight interfacing like SF101 Shape Flex by Pellon This nice woven interfacing does not have much affect on the hand of the fabric and, if quilted, it causes the fabric to drape better and to be smoother and more attractive. It can be used for shirt making also, but you may want to use a heavier weight for more tailored shirts. I would not use this as a rule on good quality quilting cotton unless you are making a shirt or dress out of it.
- For an even lighter hand (fabric drape and feel) backing up fabrics that need a little help, such as high quality silk dupioni or cotton lawn I like one of the nearly sheer nonwovens, such as Pellon 906F sheerweight. This particular interfacing is scarce right now because it is one of the choice interfacings for making masks more effective. So I linked to a pretty good price for the bolt.
- For a little heavier interfacing that you might want to use for crisper collars in tailored shirts, or costumes, for instance, I like Pellon 931td Some people are using this for mask making also, making it a little scarce, but I think it is just too heavy to comfortably breath through for me.
- For bag making or some such with leather (artificial or otherwise) or heavy upholstery fabrics when you want to quilt it I use Pellon’s naked foam. I thank Nina McVeigh for alerting me to this product on her fascinating The Quilt Show show (if you aren’t a member, you are missing a lot). I layer it with the leather or heavier upholstery fabrics and add a cotton backing fabric. This is approaching a batting discussion that will be a future blog post, but I felt it fits well in the interfacing discussion too.
- For high-end tailoring, especially with wool projects like coats and jackets I usually, but not always, move away from Pellon and use mostly Hymo. Note that I have already run a few blogs about tailoring coats, and plan on making a wool slacks suit and a raw silk tailored jacket for this fall and winter and will blog the making of those, since I have some beautiful fabrics on hand that I should use before they age out. You can easily obtain high quality and varying weights of these from tailoring supply houses online. I generally buy these by the project. So you will want to first consult your pattern or a tailoring book to get the right thing. Here is a link to a group of Hymo tailoring interfacings especially good for wools from B. Black and Sons a wonderfully supplied company where I buy my tailoring supplies: Hymo
- And B. Black also has these lovely canvas/cotton interfacings that I have used with success for non-wool or light summer tailoring: Canvas/cotton.
I use several different stabilizers for my fabric art projects and even for embellished clothes, but I only stock a few of them because they could take over my storage space otherwise.
- The primary stabilizer I use for my in-the-hoop embroidery and free motion thread painting for my quilted art pieces is either OESD’s Ultra Clean and Tear Fusible or Madeira Cotton Stable, which I have a slight preference for but it is increasingly hard to find and has gone up in price. Both of these stabilizers give the fabric enough stability to take a higher amount of stitches than most of the stabilizers will do and they both tear away easily after stitching while remaining in place when you are stitching.
- A heavier film wash away stabilizer, such as OESD’s Badgemaster, and a slightly lighter film stabilizer Madeira Avalon is especially useful in the studio. I use both Madeira and OESD film stabilizers. Washing it away can be interesting. It’s like a science fiction slime creature at first…hahaha. I just soak it in clear cold water and then rinse it well in running water.
I really like OESD’s Aqua Mesh Washaway, that looks like an interfacing, works well for marking designs on, and easy to use for stitching a free-standing thread motif, applique, or free standing lace. In such cases I will almost always add a layer of black or white nylon tulle on top and a double layer of Aqua Mesh Washaway. Then when you rinse it away, your piece will hang together and you just cut closely around the veiling, which basically disappears to your eyes on the fabric you applique it on to. Black veiling or matched to the background veiling works well for this. It is especially useful when you are embroidering or even free motion couching cords and yarns to build a heavy design to make them free from the main project and applique them on. It helps deal with the pull and keeps your main project nice and flat.
Fusibles can act as a stabilizer/interfacing
And don’t forget that when you are making a fused on applique for a wall project, for instance, you may wish to keep the fusible whole rather than windowpane it if you are going to do a lot of heavy stitching on it later. Then it acts just like a combination interfacing and stabilizer that does not get removed from your project. So you have to give some thought to how you are going to complete the project and how it is going to be used to decide whether to windowpane (cutting out most of the middle of the fusible leaving just the edges) to maintain a soft drape or is it a good idea to use the fusible whole.
There are several high quality fusibles on the market and everyone seems to have their own preferences. I personally prefer steam-a-seam 2 with the two sides of paper. One side has one inch squares on it and that’s the side that you draw your design on, cut roughly around the design about 1/4 inch away, peal off the plain side, stick the side with the grid and the drawing onto the back of your fabric, and cut it out. After that you remove the paper and you have an applique with a lightly sticky side that you can move around until you have it just right before hitting it with a steam iron that glues it in place ready to stitch.
Sew happy everyone! This blog took me too long to write because I was trying to identify what I felt were the best links to online resources. If, however, you are fortunate enough to have an open fabric store that carries these good products near you, then bless them with your purchases there. Blessings to everyone. Have a wonderful time in your studios! Feel free to ask questions. I might know the answer.